Saturday, November 28, 2015

Empty Nest: A Birds of a Feather Mystery

Author:  Marty Wingate
Genre:  Mystery

Kindle
ASIN: B00UEL0JQU
Alibi Publishing
284 Pages
$2.99
December 1, 2015
Five Stars

Manager of a tourist center in a quaint British village, Julia Lanchester finds herself with more ideas than time.  Her boss is the Earl Fotheringill himself, but apart from him, she doesn't mix well with the aristocracy.  Unfortunately, toxic mold forces her from her cottage and into one of the earl's countless spare rooms at the Hall.  She tries to get a handle on her overload of work, while she finds herself arguing with dinner guests, chaffing at the sudden interest the earl's son has in running the estate, and missing her new beau, Michael Sedgwick.

Her life goes from bad to sinister when Julia discovers poisoned sparrowhawks on the expansive estate grounds.  And soon after, she finds one of the Hall's visitors murdered - felled by the same poison.  While simultaneously both spooked and angry, she still can't keep herself from snooping, and dragging Michael along into her investigation.  But will she find the culprit before her own wings are clipped?

********

Julia Lanchester works for the Earl Fotheringill, as director of the Tour Information Center in his village.  Due to the fact that her little cottage has been discovered to have mold, she is currently residing in the earl's home as a guest.  On one evening at home, they are unexpectedly joined by the earl's son Cecil, who hasn't been there in years, and Cecil's friend Mr. Freddy Peacock.  Even though Julia is soon becoming uncomfortable staying at the hall now that the heir apparent has returned home, she is even more uncomfortable when a death occurs - just down the hall from her own rooms.  Then Cecil's mother Isabel appears, ready to do battle with the woman she considers an interloper, even though Isabel has been long divorced from Linus, the earl.

So Julia finds herself in the middle of what first appears to be an accident, but is later deemed to be a murder, and when everything points to Cecil as the suspect, she sees that her friend Linus is in pain over this and knows she must do whatever it takes to find the true killer.

Amongst all this, an old boyfriend reappears and asks for Julia's help, leaving her current boyfriend Michael suspicious and their budding relationship in danger of being derailed; her sister Bee is about to give birth; and a new estate agent, Geoffrey Addleton, questioning her about everything she is doing around the village and being belligerent in the process.  Julia indeed has her hands full.

While trying to keep her relationship with Michael on an even keel while she sorts out her feelings, she is at the same time staying at the hall out of her friendship for Linus and the fact she has decided she will help Cecil.  But at every turn Isabel, who sees Julia as a threat, does her best to make life uncomfortable for her and Julia soon finds herself sneaking back into her temporary home every evening after work in order to avoid the woman.  What Julia doesn't realize is that the murderer knows what she is doing and is determined to put her out of the way permanently.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.  Ms. Wingate is able to give us a little slice of English village life, with a nice dose of murder to solve along the way.  Her characters are substantial without being over the top, and Julia is an intelligent woman who never needlessly puts herself in harms' way, nor takes actions which seem rash or unthinking, (which, as most people know, drives me crazy from time to time.)

In the end, Ms. Wingate has given us another delightful entry to the list of books she has already turned out, and I look forward to the next in the series.  Highly recommended.



                                                             

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Puffin of Death (A Gunn Zoo Mystery)

Author:  Betty Webb
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover, Paperback, E-book
ISBN #:  9781464204142; 9781464204166
Poisoned Pen Press Publishing
243 Pages
$26.95; $12.93; $9.99 Amazon
November 3, 2015
Four Stars

California zookeeper Theodora Bentley travels to Iceland to pick up an orphaned polar bear cub destined for the Gunn Zoo's newly installed Northern Climes exhibit.  The trip is intended to be a combination of work and play.  But on day two, while horseback riding near a picturesque seaside village, Teddy discovers a man lying atop a puffin burrow, shot through the head.  The victim is identified as American bird-watcher Simon Parr, winner of the largest Powerball payout in history.  Is Teddy a witness - or a suspect?  Others include not only Parr's wife, a famed romance novelist, but fellow members of the birding club Parr had generously treated to their lavish Icelandic expedition.  Hardly your average birders, several of them have had serious brushes with the law back in the States.  Guessing that an American would best understand other Americans, police detective Thorvaald Haraldsson grudgingly concedes her innocence and allows Teddy to tag along with the group to volcanoes, glaciers, and deep continental rifts in quest of rare bird species.  But once another member of the club is murdered and a rockfall barely misses Teddy's head, Haraldsson forbids her to continue.  She ignores him and, in a stunning, solitary face-off with the killer in Iceland's wild interior, concludes an investigation at once exotic, thrilling, and rich in animal lore.

********

Theodora "Teddy" Bentley is a zookeeper with the Gunn Zoo in California.  She is told by her employer that she needs to travel to Iceland and pick up a polar bear, two Icelandic foxes and two puffins.  On the airplane, she hears a brawl in first class between a couple of birders that almost gets their plane diverted - Simon Parr, a man with Elvis sideburns whom Teddy refers to as Drunk Elvis, and another passenger.  The argument was so heated that drunken Simon is sent back to sit with others in coach.

When she arrives she is greeted by a local zookeeper and the person she will be staying with while in Reykjavik, Bryndis Sigurdsdottir.  Bryndis will not only help Teddy acclimate herself with Magnus, the polar bear, and the others she is returning with, but also be her tour guide for the week she will be spending in Iceland.  Luckily, everyone in Iceland not only speaks their native language, but fluent English as well, so Teddy doesn't need an interpreter.

After spending the day meeting her new charges at the zoo, Bryndis takes Teddy out for a night on the town.  While they are enjoying their evening, there are the obvious sounds of a fight coming from another room in the tavern, and even though Teddy wants no part of it, she happens to see what appears to be Drunk Elvis being slapped viciously by an Icelander, who turns out to be Bryndis' sometime-boyfriend Ragnar.

The next morning, Bryndis and Teddy are riding horses to see the Puffin burrows.  Unfortunately, Teddy also sees something else - the corpse of Drunken Elvis, atop one of the burrows.  He'd been shot in the head.  When the police arrive, they send the two women to the nearby hotel to wait until they need to be questioned, and not to say anything to anyone, including the rest of Simon's birding group, who happen to be at the hotel as well.  When Inspector Thorvaald Haraldsson arrives, he first speaks with Bryndis, then turns to Teddy and asks if she knows the dead man.  When Teddy learns he was the biggest winner of the Powerball lottery, and that his wife is a famous novelist, Elizabeth St. John, she is naturally intrigued - and also informed by Inspector Haraldsson that he knows about her but the Icelandic National Police do not need her help in solving the crime and to stay out of it.

But later on, when Bryndis' boyfriend Ragnar is arrested for the murder, Bryndis turns to Teddy for help and begs her to find the real person responsible, since Bryndis is sure it must be one of the American birders that were on the tour with Simon.  Teddy, even though she doesn't want to get involved, knows she must help her new friend.  And once another person is murdered, Teddy is already in too deep to let go of the investigation.

Teddy begins thinking she is merely going to spend a week getting used to her new charge, Magnus the polar bear, and winds up in the middle of a murder investigation.   What she discovers along the way is not only did Simon win the Powerball, but it was he who paid for the entire trip for his friends.  With no dearth of subjects - there were ten people on the tour - Teddy has her work cut out for her.  She also finds out that each and every one of them has something to hide; and even when she calls a friend in the States for help, she's not getting the entire truth of the matter.

So Teddy plods on, because she (along with the other Americans) have had to surrender their passports to the police, and unless the murderer is found soon, she could be stuck in Iceland indefinitely, and Teddy wants nothing more than to go home to her beloved zoo and her fiance Joe.

I found it interesting that this book takes place in Iceland, and also learned a little bit about Icelandic customs and their people.  I also learned that they have several small earthquakes every week, which was enough to keep me from ever wanting to visit there (been there, done that).  But I enjoyed reading about it nevertheless.  While we are given information on Iceland and its inhabitants, it is woven into the mystery so that it doesn't overshadow it.  It is nicely done, and Teddy is never invasive to the point of being annoying.

When the murderer comes to light, we understand that in their own mind what they did was the only thing they could do at the time, even if we don't agree with the reasoning.  The ending was satisfying, and the book can be read as a stand alone, which is nice.  Recommended.

http://www.amazon.com/Puffin-Death-Gunn-Zoo-Mystery/dp/1464204144/



                                                             

Monday, November 16, 2015

Bryant & May and the Burning Man: A Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery

Author:  Christopher Fowler
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover, E-book
ISBN #:  9780345547682
Bantam Publishing
416 Pages
$19.26 Amazon; $12.99 Kindle
December 15, 2015

Five Stars

No case is too curious for Arthur Bryant and John May, London's most ingenious detectives.  But with their beloved city engulfed in turmoil, they'll have to work fast to hold a sinister killer's feet to the fire.

In the week before Guy Fawkes Night, London's peaceful streets break out in sudden unrest.  Enraged by a scandal involving a corrupt financier accused of insider trading, demonstrators are rioting outside the Findersbury Private Bank, chanting, marching, and growing violent.  But when someone hurls a Molotov cocktail at the bank's front door, killing a homeless man on its steps, Bryant, May, and the rest of the Peculiar Crimes Unit is called in.  Is this an act of protest gone terribly wrong?  Or a devious, premeditated murder?

Their investigation heats up when a second victim is reported dead in similar fiery circumstances.  May discovers the latest victim has ties to the troubled bank, and Bryant refuses to believe this is mere coincidence.  As the riots grow more intense and the body count climbs, Bryant and May hunt for a killer who's adopting incendiary methods of execution, on a snaking trail of clues with roots in London's history of rebellion, anarchy, and harsh justice.  Now, they'll have to throw themselves in the line of fire before the entire investigation goes up in smoke.

********

Arthur Bryant and John May are two senior detectives in the Peculiar Crimes Unit.  By senior, I mean that they are both getting on in years - but that doesn't mean either of them can't do their job.  In fact, they are both very good at what they do.  And what they are doing right now is trying to solve another peculiar case that has come their way:  Anger is awash the streets of London; the city is in the midst of riots due to a corrupt financier accused of insider trading.  One night, someone hurls a Molotov cocktail at a bank, inadvertently killing a homeless man.  Or was it?  Bryant isn't so sure once he sees the site.  And when another man is murdered shortly after, burned to death, but in a different way, he's positive that this was no accident, and is going to find the truth no matter what it takes.  But the killer doesn't stop there, and Bryant is hot on the trail of a would-be serial killer.

Okay, I've made my pun because this is a very intense book and is not for those who expect a light-hearted read.  The deaths are gruesome and some uncomfortable to read, but once drawn in you will not be able to put the book down, because there are the whys and wherefores that need to be answered, and wondering what could cause someone go to such lengths to create this mayhem and murder.

But the killer is an elusive sort, and there are things that don't make sense to the detectives.  For example, why was the homeless man killed?  He was identified as one Freddy Weeks, and doesn't seem to have any bearing on the case at all.  And they know that there was no way anyone could have missed him in that doorway, so the killer knew that he was there.  Yet he was the first, and he was connected to the rest, Bryant is sure of it...

Arthur Bryant is getting on in years, and he's keeping secrets.  He's just as good a detective as he ever was, and is able to see the puzzle and put the pieces together.  But  John May is starting to worry about him; so much so, that he asks another officer, Janice Longstreet, if she will help keep track of Bryant when he himself isn't able to.  Even though she agrees and does her best, Bryant seems to know what they're trying to do and manages to escape every now and then by himself.  But he always finds his way back, and he always comes with information related to the case.  There are those who think that Bryant and May are getting too old to do the work they do, but many know that the PCU would be lost without them and their particular way of solving crimes.

There are several subplots going on - Bryant's secrets, May's love life, Longstreet's dreams, etc., and these add to the story and make it real somehow, giving a depth to characters that might otherwise remain one-dimensional, without detracting from the main story.  And when Bryant sends his superior Land into an unfamiliar situation, you begin to wonder what the reasoning is until, of course, Bryant makes everything clear.

The methods of this unit are not always the tried and true - in fact, it seems none of it is tried and true - but the methods work, nonetheless.  Bryant merely tells people what he wants them to do, and they do it, regardless of how bizarre and outlandish it might seem to do so; because, as everyone knows, Bryant and May get results.

When all is revealed at the end, and the pieces are put together, you can see how in the killer's mind, it all made sense.  Bryant had no doubt he was on the right trail, and if you follow along with him, you will be also.  With the ending, we see what a twisted mind is capable of.

I'm not going to tell you this was an easy read; it wasn't.  Mr. Fowler does not write "easy reads," but he writes very good ones.  Bryant and May have been with us a very long time (this is book #12) and they grow on you and you become involved in their lives and their history.  I am never disappointed in these books.  Highly recommended.



More on Christoper Fowler's books:  http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/f/christopher-fowler/

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Rise of the Red Queen (Red Solaris Mystery #2)

Author:  Bourne Morris
Genre:  Mystery

Paperback, E-book
ISBN #:  9781943390298
Henery Press
288 Pages
$15.95 Amazon; $2.99 Kindle
December 1, 2015
Five Stars

A beautiful student is missing.  Did she leave on impulse, or was it something more sinister?  When the young woman's grandfather pleads for help, journalism dean Meredith "Red" Solaris agrees to help search for the student, but doesn't know she may have to risk everything to find her.

Worse yet, without solid evidence, Red and Detective Joe Morgan have little basis for investigation.  Murky university politics - and Red's own struggle to keep her job - thwart efforts to find a girl held captive by a man willing to steal what he cannot win.

********

Meredith "Red" Solaris is the Interim Dean of Journalism at a northern Nevada university, but hopes to become the permanent dean, and to that end is one of three applicants for the job, the other two being Manuel Lorenzo, an old friend; and Victor Watts, a Pulitzer Prize-winning book author and former foreign correspondent.  She knows she's up against tough competition, but is hoping that her accomplishments and achievements in the past year as dean have given her an edge.

Just before she is to leave for an interview with a committee, she is approached by Wynan Congers, a retired deputy police chief from Las Vegas who tells her his granddaughter Jamie is missing.  He tells her that Jamie had no boyfriend and would never just walk away from the school without telling him or her roommate Marilyn, and he's convinced something has happened to her, and asks Red for help.  She, in turn, tells him that she will contact her (boyfriend) Detective Joe Morgan of the Landry police force, and ask him to contact Mr. Congers.

While at an individual interview with one of the committee members, she is asked to join a committee on sexual assault in order to develop a written policy to handle it on campus, and does so, hoping it will up her chances on gaining the promotion to dean; also, to add to her problems, a long-standing feud between two professors is coming to a head, and Red needs to figure out a way to keep the peace between them if she can.

When it becomes apparent that Jamie Congers did not disappear on her own Red realizes that Jamie could indeed be in danger, and she decides to do whatever it takes to bring her home safely, even while Joe is telling her to leave it to him.  Red knows from past experience that time is of the essence in finding Jamie, and even though she knows she should leave it to Joe, we know that she won't.

So now we have the plot of a story that stands up very well on its own; a continuation of the first in the series, The Red Queen's Run.  (Don't worry, it can be read as a stand-alone).  I only mention it because Ms. Bourne pulls us into Red's life with such imagery that we almost see the events that are going on as if we were there.

The story begins with Jamie's actions, told in third person, so we know her movements and what is occurring with her; movements that soon bring her to the forefront of the story, and shows how easy it is for one bad (or misguided) decision can be that can change your life.

When we hear Red's story, it is told in first person.  Now some may not like the switching between first and third, but trust me, it works and is a seamless transition.  I say this because while we see Jamie's actions, we hear Red's thoughts.  And that makes all the difference.  While reading, there is a tenseness and edginess to Jamie's emotions, ranging from fear and desperation all the way through to anger.  Hearing Red, we understand her thought processes, and why she responds the way she does to each situation that she is thrust into.

And right now, she is thrust into not only the fact that Jamie is missing, but one of the committee members asks her to serve on a committee herself - one that touches on a darker issue, but a completely relevant one, of sexual assault on campus.  It does not permeate the book with a permanent message, nor does it preach to the reader, as I have found in other books.  However, the university is doing their best to set a written policy; but it seems that every idea is being challenged by one or another of the people on the committee, whether it be Karen Milton, Director of Student Affairs, who must deal with the problem directly; or Shelby Vane, who has a personal stake in the projected policy; and Ezra McCready, the new university provost, who insists on daily meetings and also seems to reject ideas before they can be formulated.

There is also the fairly new relationship between Red and Joe while they are navigating their feelings for each other, becoming more solidified as time goes on, and while this is more mystery than romance, I was not left disappointed.

Unfortunately, there is so much more to this book than I can write about; but I can tell you that there are no dull moments; much like real life, there is something happening all the time, and we are drawn into the events and kept busy while watching to see the outcome.

When we find out Jamie's fate and the decision for Red, along with the rest of those in the book, it is a truly satisfying ending all around, and even though there was much going on - her quest for permanency, the search for Jamie, Red and Joe's relationship, the problems with employees and others, it wasn't confusing at all but rather kept me interested and involved with the characters, and that is the portrayal of a very good book indeed.  Highly recommended.







Friday, November 6, 2015

From Bad to Wurst (A Passport to Peril Mystery)

Author:  Maddy Hunter
Genre:  Mystery

Five Stars

Paperback
ISBN #:  9780738740348
Midnight Ink Publishing
312 Pages
$11.29 Amazon
December 8, 2015

It's Oktoberfest and the globetrotting seniors are sharing their Sounds of Music adventure with several oompah bands whose dream of performing in a famous German beer hall is about to be realized.  But when a deadly relic from wartime Munich rains disaster on the group, their dreams are shattered - until an unlikely guest offers them new hope.

The tour hits a sour note when tragedy strikes a guest who knew the musicians' most guarded secrets.  Was the death an unfortunate accident or something more sinister?  As the group travels from the beer tents of Munich to the fairytale castle of Mad King Ludwig, Emily strives to restore harmony.  But with the situation escalating out of control, could the gang be looking at a terrible end to their German interlude?

********

Emily Andrew Miceli is back again in this tenth offering of Maddy Hunter's delightful Passport to Peril series.  In this outing, Emily and her group of savvy seniors are off on a trip to Germany, accompanied as usual by Emily's Nana, but also her flighty mother Margaret and her father Bob.  Also along for the trip is a psychic named Zola Czarnecki, who lucked out when there was one available seat left on the bus.  She has been amusing passengers with her predictions of the future - amusing most, anyway; although there are always bound to be skeptics in the group - the most vocal being the ever-cranky Bernice Zwerg, who is also the ever-present thorn in Emily's side.

They are traveling with a group of four Oompah bands that are excited by their chance to perform in the beer halls of Germany - since their claim to fame thus far being only able to perform in their native Iowa.  But when one of their members, Astrid Peterson, is accidentally dispatched early on by an incendiary device, and Emily is also injured in the blast, it stumps both her and her husband Etienne why anyone would be so interested in finding something Astrid left behind.

With the void left because of Astrid's demise, one of the bands finds themselves without an accordion player, which they determine is necessary for their success on the foreign stage.  An unlikely replacement comes from an unlikely source, which leaves not only Emily but also other members of her family scratching their heads in confusion and disbelief.  And when her mother develops a 'slight problem', it is up to Emily to enlist the assistance of her reluctant Nana for help.

When another group member is killed, and this time it is an obvious murder, it's up to Emily and Etienne to try and ferret out a killer before someone else becomes a casualty, and they haven't a clue why, who, or how it occurred.

As always, Ms. Hunter has given us a tangled murder mystery that is delightful to read.  Emily's attempt to figure out who the murderer is has her trying to decide who had a reason to kill, and she finds out that more than one person might have had a secret to keep, but which ones?

Her seniors are always humorous, and there were some laugh-out-loud moments, especially the scene with the "toddler tether" between Margaret and Nana.  And while they are exploring what should be the trip of a lifetime in Germany, the seniors are whipping out their ever-present camera phones and taking pictures - but what pictures they're taking are interesting, to say the least.

We are also given much pleasure in the wonderful description of Germany and its sights: Ms. Hunter can't be beat in being able to bring us along with her on the journey to other locations, and it's part of what I look forward to every time I pick up one of her books.  She manages to weave the story in between the scenery, and that's a treat by itself.  By the time we reach the end of the book, we are satisfied in the resolution, and I will say that I couldn't see any clues to the killer throughout, and it came as a surprise, but satisfying nonetheless.

At the end it's hard to say goodbye to the friends we've made while reading the others in this series, and this book is no different, and look forward to their next vacation.  So for now, I only say Auf Wiedersehen und bis bald (goodbye and see you soon).  Highly recommended.